Today we spent the morning with the directors of Freeset, a family from New Zealand who relocated to Kolkata about 10 years ago. Once they moved into their flat, they realized that they had moved into a very large red-light district. Around 10,000 women are involved in the trade within a 1 km square, serving an estimated 20,000 customers every day.
Freeset grew out of relationships the directors began developing with the women soon after their arrival here. They discovered a need for an alternative form of employment, and began to teach women to sew bags from jute, a local plant fiber. From its small beginnings Freeset has grown to its present capacity, employing 140 former sex workers. There's a nursery for their kids. They set up retirement savings funds for each worker. They provide health benefits. And they're a member of the Fair Trade Federation, so fair wages and working conditions are of course part of the picture.
Our hearts were truly moved to see the workers in action. Many say that work is a safer place than home. Most of them are high-spirited and outgoing, and their lives have really been transformed - a far cry from the bondage, terror, exploitation, and poverty that used to define their existence.
Freeset is bursting at the seams and is trying to acquire a larger working space. Their ultimate vision is to transform the entire neighborhood. When we asked how we as retailers can help them reach their goals, their response was to sell lots of bags! So hurry up and mosey on down to the shop - we've got several left in the window. The more we sell, the more we order, and the more Freeset is able to grow.